By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2014 – U.S. prosperity increasingly is tied to the Asia-Pacific region, a senior Defense Department official told the House Armed Services Committee here yesterday.
Michael D. Lumpkin -- the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, performing duties of the undersecretary of defense for policy -- reported the region accounts for one-third of global trade, including $1.4 trillion in two-way trade annually with the United States.
“Half of the world's shipping by tonnage passes through the waters of the South China Sea,” Lumpkin said. “As countries and people throughout the region become more prosperous, it's ever more important to the global economy [that] the United States will be an active partner in the region's growth.”
The strategic rebalance toward the region, he added, also reflects strong, enduring ties with Asia-Pacific countries, where the United States has long supported security and stability through its military presence and partnerships.
Lumpkin noted that the Defense Department’s role in the rebalance is only part of the broader U.S. government effort that includes diplomatic, social, cultural, political and trade initiatives.
To address 21st century challenges, DOD is modernizing its defense alliances and partnerships, including with treaty allies in the region, Lumpkin said. In addition to reviewing defense guidelines with Japan's Defense Ministry for the first time since 1997, he added, DOD is realigning its forces to ensure a sustainable presence over the long term, notably with its Marine Corps presence on Okinawa.
He also cited plans to enhance defense and space architectures in South Korea. “A new cost-sharing agreement … completed earlier this month will help to ensure that we have the resources necessary for the combined defense of the peninsula,” he told the House panel, noting the ongoing commitment to the conditions-based transition to the South Korean military of operational control of forces on the Korean Peninsula during war and a plan to effectively counter North Korean provocations.
DOD has bolstered interoperability with Australia, Lumpkin said, by deploying up to 2,500 Marines and additional aircraft to that country’s Northern Territory.
Also, “the department is negotiating a framework agreement with the Philippines, which will provide U.S. forces the opportunity for greater rotational presence and will contribute to the Philippine armed forces' modernization and capacity-building efforts,” he said.
Work also continues with Thailand's military to implement the Joint Visions Statement for the alliance, Lumpkin said, noting its focus on “supporting interoperability, encouraging Thailand to take a greater regional leadership role and strengthening relationships at all levels.”
Building a strong relationship with India and China remains a critical element of DOD’s long-term strategy in Asia, Lumpkin said.
“As rising powers, they have a special role to play in the future security order,” he added. A successful partnership with India continues to evolve based on shared interests, including maritime security, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and counterterrorism, he explained.
DOD also continues to engage with China, where cooperation directly supports the maintenance of the Asia-Pacific region’s peace and stability, Lumpkin said, calling it a key component to the overall U.S. approach in the region.
“We have made progress in cooperative capacity building in areas such as military medicine, counterpiracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” he said.
Pentagon leaders also expect progress in Burma over the coming years, Lumpkin said, with the development of defense ties contingent on human rights, democratization, national reconciliation and suspending defense ties with North Korea.
Partnerships will exceed the boundaries of the battlefield, the acting undersecretary said, with deepening cooperation in areas such as space and cybersecurity. Overall, Lumpkin said, multilateral efforts, exercises and partnerships represent a critical avenue for increasing familiarity and building habits of cooperation that help nations effectively work together and reduce the risk of miscalculation when military forces interact.
“The Defense Department will continue to prioritize the Asia-Pacific region in our activities, exercises and investments over the coming years,” he said.